I think of it as the summer I learned love. My move to the little house with the apple tree and lilac bushes was marked in my mind for a reason far deeper than a change of residence. It was the summer the doctor looked at me sadly and said that children would never be mine. It was the summer my mother-heart broke and bled and dreams crumbled in heaps around my feet. It was the summer life grew and blossomed and the inside-me finally understood.
I met them one afternoon. My feet were aching from hours in heels and my eyes were tired from working at a computer screen. A knock at the door and I looked down into the purest chocolate eyes I had ever seen. Not just one pair but three. Stepping stones of little girl smiles.
They walked into my kitchen and into my heart. I knew all about love. It was how I felt for these neighbor children who filled up the empty places in me. Silvery laughter and chubby arm hugs that gave me the courage to clean up the mess of broken dreams that were building up dust at my feet.
I bought toys and dolls and hung framed Crayola works of art on my living room wall. We made cookies, played Candyland and danced through sprinklers. Somewhere in the moments of childhood joys and squeals of laughter, I found the healing my heart needed and tears at night stopped staining my pillow.
Yet all was not well at the house beside mine. Sometimes the yelling lasted late into the night and the little girl smiles couldn’t reach their tired eyes come morning. I hurt for my darlings and gave out more hugs and candy and songs until the smiles sparkled gaily in the chocolate eyes once more.
I grew frustrated at mama’s who don’t cherish their babies. I grew angry at daddy’s who stomp through the house or stare at TVs. Could they not see the little angels around them? Did they not know that I could never have the treasure they possessed?
I kept silent knowing it was not my place to speak and opened my door wider and my heart overflowed as afternoons were spent on my front porch steps with little girls who I thought would only ever live in my buried dreams.
The day when life tilted came on a mid-summer’s eve. My bare feet were curling in lush green grass as water sprayed from the hose in my hand. My garden was flourishing, the tomatoes blossoming. Cabbages were forming. White jalapeño flowers covering small green plants. The shouting rose over the sound of the liquid splashing the ground.
I turned and saw the daddy yelling and my darlings huddled together with great tears and heart-splitting pain. I burned with white-hot anger. What was wrong with this man? Mama gathered her little ones and with screams that she would never return, bundled them all in the car, girls staring out glass with tears still dripping from chins.
I curled the hose, feeling the loss of the little ones who had healed up my heart. Would they come back? Would they truly be forever gone from me? My mind beat with fury at the daddy standing there pounding the porch with his unloving fists. I wanted to say so many things. His gaze met mine and I turned away, shutting the door between me and my horrible neighbor.
On the breeze that ruffled my white sheer curtain the sound entered my living room. It made my heart squeeze. I knew it so well. Anger simmered out and I pulled back the curtain and stared at the man who knelt on the steps with the piercing sobs of broken dreams. How many times had I cried those same tears? How many times had my heart bled that same deep gut-wrenching pain?
I glimpsed a snapshot of a hurting little boy with arms stretched wide, searching for love. Perhaps when he was a small child, with a daddy who yelled and a mama who did not understand the precious gift she had, there was no neighbor lady with open doors and bowls full of peppermint sticks. Perhaps when his chocolate eyes were sad no one bothered to make them smile again.
And then I understood. Finally. He was still a little boy deep inside. And I had been one of the people who turned away in disgust. So there he sat bleeding and crying in pain.
I watched him cry out his tears and promised myself that never again would I shut doors on hurting people. Never again would I miss the crying child for the angry man. My eyes had been opened to see what was real.
Always the goal is the same. To love deeply and truly with everything in me. To see the real things not the physical. To be in this world a fresh glimpse of joy because I know the sorrows so very well.
That was the summer I learned love. Not just from the sweet girls who offered sticky candy-kisses and dandelion bouquets but also from their daddy who yelled and swore and pounded fists into porch rails. Because true Love is not when you just love the precious and pretty and nice, true Love is learning to love the nasty and dirty and sad.
The love I possessed at the beginning of summer, I learned as the fall brought orange leaves and cool nights, was blind and shallow and small. The Love that I found corrected my vision as I glimpsed past the pretty and ugly and saw instead the same hurting hearts in all.